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IN ANY LANGUAGE, VIOLA STRINGS TOGETHER SWEET SEASON

If you want to watch Danielle Viola play tennis, you better brush up on your Italian.

"Andiamo!" she tells herself in between points. It means "let's go" and Viola did just that Tuesday in the championship match of the Monsignor Martin Association boys tennis tournament. Viola, a Niagara Catholic sophomore, completed an undefeated season by beating Mark Segal of Park, 6-2, 6-3, at Sportsplex.

Viola, ranked 17th in the East among girls in the United States Tennis Association's 16-under division, is part of a coed Niagara Catholic team that didn't have enough players to field separate boys and girls teams. Viola went 6-0 against the boys in the regular season and won four times Monday and Tuesday to earn the title.

"I try to play emotionless, but every once in a while I come across a match where it's my will against my opponent's," said Viola, whose use of "Andiamo" is part of her family's Italian heritage -- Italian was her father's first language. "We're both fighting hard, and sometimes talking and staying positive can get yourself to keep going."

One of Viola's wins this season came against Segal. The 6-2, 6-2 match marked his only loss.

"I knew what to expect, but the fun part about tennis is that sometimes you expect something and it turns out totally different," said Viola, who will play in a USTA event on Glen Cove, L.I., this weekend. "One of the things I've been working on for this tournament was my serve, and it pulled through."

A first set marked by powerful groundstrokes between the right-handers -- including Viola's pounding two-handed backhand -- was 2-2 after each player held serve and then lost it. Viola held serve to take a 3-2 lead, and Segal double faulted twice to end the sixth game to allow Viola to go up, 4-2. A Viola service winner closed out the next game, and she broke Segal to take the first set, 6-2. At deuce, she used a backhand volley winner at Segal's feet to win the advantage and closed out the set with an overhead.

While Viola was willing herself on in Italian, Segal was talking to himself in the language of his family ancestry -- Russian.

"I think that was the most fun part of this match, with us both going on in our different languages," said Viola. "It was probably fun to watch."

A fiery second set saw the best rallies of the match and both players exchange some verbal volleys -- in English -- after some disputed line calls. Segal questioned a call by Viola in the opening game that she won, and then channeled his emotion into some booming serves in the second game. He tied it up by finishing off the game with a strong cross-court forehand winner. Segal took his only lead in the match by going up 2-1 after a game in which there was as much discussion of points as there were points.

Viola came right back to break Segal in a game in which she pinned him to the baseline repeatedly with strong groundstrokes. A splendid crosscourt forehand winner highlighted Viola's next game in which she lost just one point to take a 3-2 lead. Segal went up 40-0 in the next game only to have Viola come back and win it, but then Segal returned the comeback favor in the next game to make it 4-3. After Viola broke Segal easily for a 5-3 lead, she served out the match in what was the longest game of the evening. After the third deuce, two unforced errors by Segal ended the match.

"It's kind of weird," Segal said of playing a girl for a boys championship. "There is a girls Monsignor Martin league, I thought. But if she can beat us, it's fine. She plays really well."

Viola practices about four hours a day at the Village Glen in Williamsville in addition to hitting two hours every day with her dad at Sportsplex before heading to their Niagara Falls home. She said she enjoyed playing in the boys league and may play again next season.

"It's always fun when you're with teammates," she said. "You cheer each other on and laugh. And going outside Niagara Falls to the away games, it was fun."

In the doubles championship, Canisius' Matt Kubus and Mike Flierl defeated Brett Tevens and Anthony Burgio of St. Joe's, 6-2, 6-4.

Canisius, which went undefeated as a team through the regular season, also won the team title with 33 points. St. Joe's was second with 23.

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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